Research Points

Research point 4.0

  • Impressionism

The term impressionism describes a type of art movement, which was reflected in different subjects, but especially came to life in paintings and music around 1900.

For painters, impressionism worked against several rules, which were taught at art schools in the 19th century: The colour of the painting was now used as the main design medium, whereas the graphic elements were more in the background. Impressionists often painted outside, and regularly tried to emphasize the reflection of light and the prismatic colours. 1

In poetry impressionism considers primarily surroundings of the real world. Similar to paintings, colours and light differences have an important role. The poets and authors of this epoch aspired a preferably accurate representation of an impression. 2

The epoch is named after Claude Monet’s painting “Impression, soleil levant” (sunrise). The character is the same in any form of art: One tried to capture an immediate “impression” of a specific moment or mood, either with words, colours or notes. Claude Debussy (1862-1918) is the main representative of musical impressionism. Also well known for the epoch, but with a lesser extent than Debussy was Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). Debussy introduced new colours of sounds by using exotic percussion instruments, pentatonic scales, whole-note scales and Gregorian modes (church modes). The aesthetics of the musical description is often connected with natural processes. One element which was despicted especially often was water (e.g. Debussy:  La mer, Reflets dans l’eau; Ravel: Jeuy d’eau). 3,4


  • Symbolism

Around the same time symbolism formed as a contramotion to serialism, it was seen as the transition between impressionism and expressionism. The paintings of the symbolism normally don’t represent any action or storyline, but dream-like scenes, which often referred to Greek Mythology or the bible. One motive, which was chosen often was the connection between eroticism and death. Some main representatives were Gustav Klimt, Paul Gauguin and Gustave Moreau.  5,6

As the name “symbolism” already indicates, that things are not described directly. Poets often tried to describe scenes by using metaphors or comparisons.  The true meaning behind a piece of poetry is never described directly, but it was tried to get as close as possible, without naming it. Some well-known authors from the symbolism-ear were Friedrich Nietzsche; Stephan George and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. 7, 8

Musical symbolism is slightly more complex, as it can be interpreted in many different ways. Some music from former epochs are categorised as symbolism as well. One of Hector Berloiz’ (1803-1869) pieces “Fantastic Symphony” was a story put to music. Even though the piece itself doesn’t involve any sung text, the audience gets a short summary of the plot beforehand, to know what the piece is about. He used Leitmotifs (specific motifs which is linked to a character or object), which were introduced by Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) about 40 years before. Therefore, the plot is never described in a discreet way. 9

 1 Brodskskaia, N. Impressionism. New York: Parkstone Press International. pp, 7-15. [online]. Availabe at: [Accessed: 5. 11.2019]

2 The Princeton Enyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, (2014); 4th ed. Princeton Universit Press. [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 5.11.2019]

3 Heukäufer, N. (2014). Musik Abi-Kompaktwissen Oberstufe. 5th ed. Berlin: Cornlesen Scriptor, pp.166-168.

4 Kennedy M; Kennedy J; and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2013). Oxford Dictionary of Music. 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

5 Brodskaya, N. Symbolsim. New York: Parkstone Press International, pp, 102-112. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 5.11.2019]

6 (2016) Symbolismus: Spiel um Erotik und Tod. [online] Available at: [5.10.2019]

7 Brodskaya, N. Symbolsim. New York: Parkstone Press International, pp, 25-46. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 5.11.2019]

8 Antikoerperchen – Lyrik Datenbank. (2017) Die Epoche des lyrischen Symbolismus. [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 05.11.2019]

9 Loss, S. (2014). Symbolism in music. [Blog] Classical Music Self Defense. Available at: [Accessed: 05.11.2019]


Research point 4.1

Stephane Mallarme wrote the poem „L’ Après-Midi d’un Faun in 1878, it is seen as his most well-known piece of work. The protagonist of the poem is a faun, who awakes from his afternoon-nap and tells monologically what he had experienced and/or dreamt in the morning. He remembers, under the charm of a Syrinx (Pan flute), that he caught two nymphs and brought them to a sunny place. It is not explained, what happened there, but the nymphs managed to escape. The faun feels guilty about his behaviour and fears that the Goddess Venus could punish him. He comes back to a peaceful sleep in the evening after drinking some wine.

Having listened to the piece before and after I read the poem, I had the same impression both times: Rather than reflecting the exact plot of the poem musically, Debussy tried to create the atmosphere of the scenery around it. Therefore, I don’t see the flute theme (which can be seen after this paragraph) as the faun’s leitmotiv, but as him either dreaming, or thinking about his experiences.


Faun theme


As it is already mentioned in my listening log; I noticed that, the more often the theme starts, the shorter it seems to become, apart from the end of the piece, where the full theme is played again. This shortening of the theme may indicate how the faun is speculating about whether his experiences where a dream or reality. The abrupt changes from the melody to completely different harmonies could symbolise that the faun gets more doubts about his actions. The mentioned worries about a possible punishment from the goddess Venus are well reflected with some disharmonic chords.

Apparently Mallarme’s poem was seen as part of the symbolism, not addressing the subject he wanted to display directly. In that sense, Debussy probably did it in a similar way, by only describing the atmosphere, or thoughts of the faun, instead of the plot. Fitting to the, already in a previous research point mentioned, characteristics of the impressionism, Debussy didn’t focus on one key signature in particular, he moved around several, always depending on the scene he wanted to describe.

Debussy seemed to have broken several rules by creating this piece; Even though one can hear the theme of the dreaming faun several times in different keys, the piece overall doesn’t have a predictable structure.


1 Glidden, H and Young-Bruehl, E. Stephane Mallarme – The Afternoon of a Faun. [PDF]. Available at: [Accessed: 8.11.2019]

2 Yeyebook (2018). Stephane Mallarme – Der Nachmittag eines Fauns (egloga) DE. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 8.11.2019]

3 Scheit, J. (2017). Prélude à l’après-midi d’un Faune. [online]. Die deutschen Debussy-Seiten. Available at: [Accessed: 8.11. 2019]

4 Classic FM. (2019). Debussy – Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 8.11.2019]

5 (2016). A guide to Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894). [online] Available at: [Accessed: 8.11.2019]


Research point 4.2

Greek modes

Modes developed in the Middle Ages. It was only at the beginning of the 17th century, that composers mainly started to use the Major and Minor scales. Nevertheless, some composers of later epochs (e.g. Debussy) have written melodies which are based on modes. 1

There are officially 6, but theoretically 7 modes which I will explain in the following paragraphs.

  • Ionian Mode

Ionian mode

The intervals from this mode can be taken from the C major scale. Therefore, this counts probably as one of the most used modes, which is still mainly worked with today. Transferred to any other key – one would end up having the normal Major Key signature starting on any note. If “T” stands for Tone and “S” for “Semitone”, then the intervals of the mode can be shown as: T – T – S – T – T –T –S.

Many old folk songs can be used as an example for this mode, for example Twinkle twinkle little star, Frere Jacque, Rain Rain – Go away, Etc..

  • Dorian Mode

Dorian Mode

To find out the intervals for this scale, one would have to play only white notes; from D to D on the piano. They are arranged as the following: T – S – T – T – T – S – T.

The most famous example of a Dorian piece is probably the Irish folksong “Drunken Sailor”. ( ), another good example would be “ Scarborough Fair from Simon and Garfunkel (

  • Phrygian Mode

Phrygian Mode Mode

The Phrygian mode is constructed with the intervals from E to E, only using white notes again. S – T – T – T – S – T – T.

A good example for the Phrygian mode would be Pink Floyds “Set the Controls for the heart of the sun”, which has an eastern sounding character.  (

  • Lydian Mode

Lydian Mode

White notes on the piano from F to F: T – T – T – S – T – T – S. The most well-known contemporary example of the Lydian mode is probably the opening theme of “The Simpsons”, written by Danny Elfman. (

  • Mixolydian Mode

MixoLydian Mode

White notes on the piano from G to G: T – T – S – T – T – S – T . A good example for a mixolydian mode is “Clocks” by Coldplay (

  • Aeolian Mode

Aeolian Mode

This mode, as well as the Ionian Mode is the natural (and sometimes even still now called “Aeolian”) minor scale. Even though most composers either use the harmonic or melodic minor scale, the key signature would still be for the natural minor in both cases.

The Aeolian Mode can be found by playing the white keys on the piano from A to A;

T – S – T – T – S – T – T.  Any song in a natural minor could be taken as an example; e.g. Losing my Religion by R.E.M. (

  • Locrian Mode

Locrian Mode

Even though it is virtually not used, to make the round complete, theorists also invented the “Locrian Mode”, which is played from B to B. The intervals would be: S – T – T – S – T – T – T

In some books the modes are shown slightly differently: They separate them in four authentic main scales and for plagal side-scales. Therefore, the modes are only counted up to the mixolydian mode, and the following ones (from A) have the same names again, but with the prefix “hypo”. Thus, the Aeolian mode would be “Hypo-Dorian”; Locrian is the same as “Hypo – Phrygian; Ionian becomes “Hypo- Lydian; and Dorian could also be called “Hypo – Mixolydian”.

Seeing that I mainly looked for contemporary examples, I added several more pieces of former eras to my listening log.

(2), (3), (4), (5)

1 Knapp, W and Peschl, W. (2005).  Wege zur Musik – Oberstufe Band 1. Innsbruck: Helbling, p.36.

2 Heukäufer, N. (2014). Musik Abi – Kompaktwissen Oberstufe. Berlin: Cornlesen Syriptor, pp. 123-125

3 Hofmann, B; Liebl, R; Lindner, U and Unterberger, S. (2015) Wege zur Musik – Oberstufe Band 2. Innsbruck: Helbling, p. 289

4 Taylor, E. (2018) [ 21st ed] The AB Guide to Music Theory – Part 2. Norwich: ABRSM, p. 237-243.

5 Karolyi, O. (1965) Introducing Music. London: Pelican Books, p. 40.

Research point 4.3

Debussy’s „Voiles“ was composed in 1909, it is the second piece for piano from his book “Preludes – Livre I”. A further entry about this piece can also be found in my listening log.

The composition has 64 bars, which I roughly divided into 5 parts. Seeing that the transitions are (as it was often the case in the Impressionism), more fluent, it is difficult to clearly define where one part ends and the next one starts.

  • A: (Bars 1 to 17): Within the first four bars, Debussy introduces with a theme played only by the right hand, which involves the notes of a whole-tone-scale. (E, D, C, Bb, Ab; played descending, with their major third above). Voiles 1.PNGIn the following bars, Debussy adds two more voices; a low one, constantly playing staccato Bb; and a middle voice playing either single notes, octaves or full chords, which are also part of a whole tone scale. During this introduction of new voices, the first voice continues playing its’ descending theme.

Voiles 2

  • A’: (Bars 18 to 21): The first motif changes from descending to ascending notes. Furthermore, the rhythm goes from 8ths and 64ths to double dotted 8ths and 32nd The lower voices stay the same as above.

Voiles 3

  • B: (Bars 22 to 41): The pace of the first and second voice increases, whilst the lowest voice becomes slower. The upper and middle section play in a contrasting way. One can notice that, the first voice comes back to the same rhythm it was playing for the first motif, with a few exceptions. The middle voice seems to be moving independently whilst the low voice is still only playing Bbs, but less frequently.

Voiles 4

  • C: (Bars 42 to 47): It is indicated with a doubled bar line, that a new theme starts. Debussy switches to rapidly played ascending pentatonic scales. (E,G,A,B,D).

Voiles 5.PNG


  • C’: (Bars 48 to 64): The last part seems to have passages from A and C involved. The pentatonic scale is still used, even though it alternates between starting on Ab and F#. In the meantime, a middle voice starts, which is again based on a whole-tone scale. The chords of the middle voice in part A occasionally appear as well as the “main” motif in the first voice.

Voiles 6

The score has been provided by the Petrucci Music library:

Research point 4.4

The intro of Miles Davis‘ “So what”, was inspired by Debussy’s “ Voiles” (Rp. 4.3).  Similar to “Voiles” I only started noticing a rough structure of the intro, after looking at the music. There are several similarities:

  • The use of fourth intervals for chords. Especially for the chords in bars 8 and 9, where the piano plays the chords Db, E, F, F#, G and A in the second inversion. I couldn’t find a scale in which all of those notes are used, which might just indicate that the pianist didn’t want to stick to just one scale or mode.
  • Octave, Fourth and Fifth parallels, which actually weren’t allowed in the “strict” classical music rules, were used for both pieces.
  • The sound of harmonic progression (modal chord progressions) generally sounds similar to “Voiles”.
  • The use of the pedal point “A”, which, for example, alters with the melody in the bass in bar 5 is similar to the pedal point Bb in the first half of “Voiles”
  • In bar 9 and 10, the time signature alters between 4/4 and 2/4.

After the intro, the piece starts in D-Dorian Mode, shifts to Eb-Dorian and goes back to D-Dorian at the end.

Some more information about the piece can be found in my listening log.


Research pint 4.5 Stravinsky and Neoclassicism

The term “neo-classicism” describes a contra-motion to Schönberg’s Serialism. The movement started in the first half of the 20th century. Probably due to the need for something more substantial than Serialism, composers came back to write music in the style of the 17th and 18th century. This musical style mostly had a clear harmonic structure and was therefore easier to listen to. Seeing that the music referred more often (but not exclusively) to the baroque era rather than the classical era, the term “neo- baroque” would be a more suitable description. Composers tried to reduce the harmonics of the previous Romantic era, as it was seen as too “flatulent”. Sinfonias, Sonatas and Baroque styles came back to life.

The era developed in Paris in the 1920s, having Igor Stravinsky, Jean Cocteau, and the “Group des Six*” as their main representatives.

Some historians say, that neo-classicism had its origin not only as a contrast to serialism, but also evolved through the disruption of the first world war.  Therefore, the term was described as being almost a synonym for a rescue operation, for which the tonal system went through a rough conservative restructuring.

By using either the structure of movements, general forms or original compositions from the past, composers of the neo-classicism mixed (mainly) baroque music with the new sound forms of the 19th century. Igor Stravinsky, who was one of the main representatives of this era, took pieces from different baroque composers for his ballet “Pulcinella”. He changed them to make his own composition by adding new phrases, different harmonisations and new rhythms.

The neo-classicism isn’t simply imitating the classicism; it makes vital differences with specific techniques which the literary theorist Viktor Sklovskij called “Verfemdung” (alienation). The main progress of Verfremdung is the parody, which includes deformation and mechanisation, it aims for an aggravated sensation of the music.

Nevertheless, every composer of that era used a very specific assortment of stylistic and technical elements from the modern musical vocabulary. Therefore, one can’t really define the neo-classicism as a musical style, but as more or less developed neo-classical tendencies. Every single composer has therefore created his/her own neo-classicism because the mixture of tradition and innovation always aligned differently.

Schönberg and Stravinsky didn’t support each other’s music initially. After Stravinsky’s commented on Schönbergs music, saying that he wasn’t writing the music of the future, but the music of the present, Schönberg stated, that coming back to old music wouldn’t bring the art forward. Serialism and Neo-classicism nevertheless have in common, that they reject romanticism.

Despite the tension between the two composers, Stravinsky stated that he, as well as Schönberg and his students, explored new music in the 1920s, even though they attached it to the “tradition they were so busily outgrowing a decade before”. (Taruskin, 2008)

*The “Group des Six” was a loose alliance of six French composers: Georges Auric; Louis Durey; Arthur Honegger; Darius Millhaud; Francis Poulenc and Germaine Tailleferre.

(1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7), (8)

1Kennedy J, Kennedy M and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2012). Serialism, serial technique, serial music. In: The Oxford Dictionary of Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

2Straus, J, (2008). A Revisionist History of Twelve- Tone Serialism in American Music. Journal of the Society of American Music. [online]. Vol.2, Iss 3, pp 255-395. Available at: [Accessed: 24.11.2019]

3Wheeldon, M. (2017). Anti- Debussyism and the formation of French neoclassicism. Journal of the American Musicological Society. [online]. Vol.70, Iss2. Available at:|A520673942&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon [Accessed: 25.11.2019]

4Heukäufer, N.(2014) Musik Abi – Kompaktwissen Oberstufe. Berlin: Cornlesen Scriptor., pp 188-189

5Messing, S. (1991) Polemic as History: The Case of Neoclassicism. Journal of Musicology. [online] Vol. 9. No 4. Available at: [Accessed: 25.11.2019]

6 Das Phänomen des Neoklassizismus in der Musik [pdf]. Available at: [Accessed: 25.11.2019]

7Thompson, W (2002). The great composers – An illustrated guide to the ives, key work and influences of over 100 renowned composers. London: Anness Publishing Limited, pp184-189 and 218.

8 Hermann, M. Analyse von Musik des 20. Jahrhunderts. 2nd ed. [pdf].Available at: [Accessed: 26.11.2019]


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